The amnionless gene, essential for mouse gastrulation, encodes a visceral-endoderm-specific protein with an extracellular cysteine-rich domain.
Fate-mapping experiments in the mouse have revealed that the primitive streak can be divided into three functional regions: the proximal region gives rise to germ cells and the extra-embryonic mesoderm of the yolk sac; the distal region generates cardiac mesoderm and node-derived axial mesendoderm; and the middle streak region produces the paraxial, intermediate and lateral plate mesoderm of the trunk. To gain insight into the mechanisms that mediate the assembly of the primitive streak into these functional regions, we have cloned and functionally identified the gene disrupted in the amnionless (amn) mouse, which has a recessive, embryonic lethal mutation that interferes specifically with the formation and/or specification of the middle primitive streak region during gastrulation. Here we report that the gene Amn encodes a novel type I transmembrane protein that is expressed exclusively in the extra-embryonic visceral endoderm layer during gastrulation. The extracellular region of the Amn protein contains a cysteine-rich domain with similarity to bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-binding cysteine-rich domains in chordin, its Drosophila melanogaster homolog (Short gastrulation) and procollagen IIA (ref. 3). Our findings indicate that Amn may direct the production of trunk mesoderm derived from the middle streak by acting in the underlying visceral endoderm to modulate a BMP signaling pathway.
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